An increasing number of software vendors are touting their commitment to an open architecture. But, just like many software companies “cloud-washed” their products without adding real cloud functionality when the cloud started heating up, most vendors’ claims today about their openness go no deeper than a few buzzwords. Customers looking for solutions with an open architecture need to closely evaluate how deep a vendor’s commitment to openness really runs.
We’ve put together the following list of qualities that will help you gauge whether your enterprise software provider really walks the open walk, or whether they’re simply talking the talk. These points are less focused on the super techy elements of an open platform (e.g., restful APIs) and more focused on the organization’s approach to operating in an ecosystem of solutions.
When you go to your software provider’s website, openness is a clear part of their messaging, and product partners are prominently featured. Service partners who help implement software are important, but it’s the product partners who are critical to a truly open ecosystem.
The fuel of an open ecosystem is the ease of data movement between solutions. This goes well beyond publishing a few APIs and posting the documentation on a web page. Rather, sponsors of an open ecosystem work with their partners to build, test, and maintain APIs for a variety of use cases.
In addition to providing the architectural and technical underpinnings that enable an open architecture, they actively engage third-party software providers in strategic conversations at all levels of the organization to collaborate on integration and to jointly go to market to solve client needs.
While subtle, the words used when describing one’s approach to openness matter.
- Good: “Interfaces.” It’s a start, but this is the bare minimum.
- Better: “Integration to enable a solution across products.” Closer as it implies solution enablement across multiple options.
- Best: “Powered by” relationships with many vendors. This demonstrates embracing openness and connectivity at a very intimate level with their partners, striving for seamless user experiences across products.
If a provider is really going to embrace an open architecture and an ecosystem of solutions, they must be a proponent of providing choices to clients, even (or perhaps, especially) when some choices are competitive to their own products. Selfless providers don’t box out the competition; they welcome it and strive to make their own products better.
Integrations are built and supported by the sponsor of the ecosystem, in collaboration with their partners, so clients don’t have to worry about connectivity between solutions. The number you call for integration support is the same number as for application support.
When you look at a provider’s product offerings, user conferences, and marketing materials, openness is a thread that runs through everything they do. You should find products that leverage partner solutions, case studies that discuss a suite of solutions that includes products outside of the core provider’s offerings, and partners that actively engage at user events and other key gatherings of clients and employees.
It is wise to ask an interested third party for objective intelligence. If you ask a member of the ecosystem about their experiences in integrating with your provider, especially if you are not in an active sales cycle, you will be able to tell just how open your provider really is.
When you ask them to articulate their outlook for an open and connected ecosystem, they have a clear statement of direction, can articulate a future state, and have a product roadmap to achieve the vision. People across the organization should be able to articulate this vision-to-execution plan and the benefits it provides.
Truly open vendors don’t assume to know what is best for your business; they don’t assume they have a solution for all your needs, and they don’t believe they can innovate everywhere simultaneously. Instead, they recognize that every client’s business is unique and that go-to-market strategies and areas of competitive differentiation drive a specific set of needs that will likely require a suite of solutions beyond their own borders. As such, they provide you with the freedom to take your business where you want to go.